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Parkinson, Charles Tasman (1886–1968)

by P. J. Yeend

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Charles Tasman Parkinson (1886-1968), clergyman, schoolmaster and actor, was born on 1 October 1886 at Hawera, New Zealand, fourth son of William Alfred Parkinson, Sydney-born journalist, and his Tasmanian wife Mary Elizabeth, née Harris. William worked on his father-in-law's Launceston Examiner and the Melbourne Argus before eventually founding the Hawera Star in New Zealand. Charles was educated at Wellington College and briefly at Auckland University College. In 1906 he entered Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1911; M.A., 1914). He played Rugby, cricket and tennis and became a sergeant in King Edward's Horse. After studying theology under Rev. Harold Anson he was ordained priest by the bishop of Durham on 2 June 1912 and on 19 June married Dorothy Fancourt Mitchell (d.1977), a clergyman's daughter. As a curate at South Shields, Durham, for the next three years he worked among Tyneside pitmen and shipyard workers.

In 1916-18 Parkinson served with various artillery units in France and Belgium as a chaplain. After taking part in an action, he returned to England in July 1918, resigned his chaplaincy, re-enlisted as a gunner on 22 August, and served in France until the Armistice; he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery on 9 April 1919.

That year Parkinson accepted a position at Giggleswick School, Yorkshire, but was soon invited by Sir William Fyfe to Christ's Hospital, Horsham, Sussex, where he became a senior housemaster, acted as school chaplain and taught English, history, Latin and Scripture. He had a lifelong interest in the theatre, and acted with the Bath Players. Fluent in French and German, he toured Germany and Scandinavia in 1931 and wrote a report for the Foreign Office.

In November 1932 Parkinson was appointed headmaster of The King's School, Parramatta, New South Wales, in succession to Rev. E. M. Baker whose philosophy was 'work hard, pray hard and play hard'. Arriving during the Depression, Parkinson nevertheless persuaded his council to embark on an extensive building programme—new laboratories, classrooms and a library, and improved boarding accommodation. He gave the best-equipped masters the chance to teach senior forms ahead of senior staff and cultivated cultural and craft activities, producing and acting in plays and inviting artists and musicians to speak at the school. His programme soon caused dissatisfaction among Baker-appointed staff and puzzlement in parents and boys.

Active in the Headmasters' Conference of Australia and a friend of (Sir) James Darling, Parkinson was an early president of the State branch of the New Education Fellowship and founded its journal, New Horizons in Education. He outlined his proposed changes to the curriculum at The King's School to a meeting of parents on 18 September 1937: more time should be given to 'social science' (literature, history, geography and 'the study of man's relation to his own period') and to craftsmanship (carpentry, art and engineering). Latin, French and German should be taught only to older boys who wanted to matriculate. Not least he wanted to replace intensive training for competitive games, Rugby in particular, with daily physical training.

It was all too much, too quickly, for conservative staff and parents. Enrolments fell and Parkinson resigned on 31 January 1938. He acquired a grazing property at Sofala, but during World War II he returned to Sydney to serve as assistant priest at St Jude's, Randwick, until 1946, and thereafter in an honorary capacity. For an income he turned to the stage, film, radio, television and advertising, using the name 'Charles Tasman'. He was successful as Becket in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Malvolio in Twelfth Night; he wrote scripts and acted in radio plays; and was a visiting lecturer at the National Institute of Dramatic Art and active in the British Drama League.

Trim and athletic looking, of medium height with a dark complexion and strong face, Parkinson gathered young people round him; he brought up three orphaned nieces and had N.I.D.A. students, including John Bell, living in his Randwick home. He was an early member of the Rostrum Club of Australia and a Rotarian.

Parkinson died on 22 August 1968 in Prince of Wales Hospital; he bequeathed his body to the University of New South Wales. His wife and two sons Anthony and (Sir) Nicholas survived him. A portrait of Parkinson by Stuart Reid, presented to him by parents and old boys in 1938, is held by The King's School.

Select Bibliography

  • O. C. Mortimer, Parkinson of King's (manuscript, privately held)
  • King's School Magazine, 1932-38, Dec 1960, Aug 1970
  • P. J. Yeend, Aspects of the History of The King's School Parramatta (M.A. thesis, Macquarie University, 1980)
  • Mrs C. T. Parkinson's unpublished memoirs (copies held by members of the family)
  • The King's School Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

P. J. Yeend, 'Parkinson, Charles Tasman (1886–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/parkinson-charles-tasman-7961/text13861, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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